Thursday, 22 December 2011

Them Who Paved the Way

Love has been taken away very early on and many times since. Yet, at every merciful redemption, Love is embraced with the utmost honour and reverence, throughout the haunting fear of loss. 

"Mornin' Cousin Alberta...Jeremiah and Sylvia just got run over by a train".  "Wutz dat you say?".  "I said, Jeremiah and Sylvia dead, train hit 'em...Bye"  The year was 1925. Jeremiah was the first love for Alberta Tucker, my paternal grandmother, whom I affectionately addressed as, Mama Dear. Sylvia was Jeremiah's girlfriend. Jeremiah and Sylvia got their feet caught up in the railroad tracks as the train switched directions. Sylvia's brother, casually delivered the news to Mama Dear, as she bathed her newborn son Timothy, in the aluminium tub on the porch of the house that her new husband, David Anderson, my paternal grandfather, who equally carries my affections in my reference to him as, Daddy Honey, had built in the fields on the outskirts of New Orleans, Louisiana. Jeremiah and Sylvia had a reputation for dangerous living. They swam too far out into a lake once and Jeremiah barely managed to save Sylvia from drowning. They had often been warned by family members about "foolin' around on dem railroad tracks", but they were on a mission of escapism, which had come to a tragic end.

Mama Dear was the third eldest in a family of 14 children, 7 boys and 7 girls. Her mother Ida was described as being 'black as night' in colour, with hair that shined like 'polished coal, reachin' all the way down her backside'. Mama Dear's father, Samuel Tucker, was the product of a white Creole man who was a landowner, Thomas Tucker, and, the daughter of a former slave from his grandfather's plantation, Lizzie Tucker, whom Thomas lived with as his common law wife/concubine, until Lizzie died.

Mama Dear was her father's favourite daughter. She had a very kind-hearted nature, which made her easy to love, but, her father also preferred her because of all his other daughters, she was the closest in skin colour to him. He treated her darker skinned sisters with unspeakable disgust. It was an unfairness Mama Dear found hard to reconcile. On the one hand being put on a pedestal, whilst her beloved sisters suffered their father's contempt. Long after her childhood days in Chipola, Louisiana, where she was born, in January 1904, Mama Dear lavished her abundant love on her family, which I witnessed first hand, as she raised me up. She was especially close to her sisters. We used to take the train from Houston to New Orleans quite a lot in my earliest years. The love between them was priceless. Mama Dear had fared better in life than they did though. She never reached anywhere near the heights of her dreams, but Mama Dear was well aware she had been granted some much sought after advantages, within the confines of her environment, simply because of her lighter coloured skin.

Mama Dear's first love, Jeremiah, was also fair skinned. He had the equivalent education of white boys his age, with plans to go to college. Mama Dear and Jeremiah fell in love as young teenagers. As an exceedingly handsome octoroon, with 'good hair', Jeremiah had his pick of females to choose from for his romantic dalliances, which caused the conflicts in his relationship with Mama Dear, because of her rules of 'no fornication'There were also some disturbing similarities between Jeremiah and Mama Dear's father, Samuel. Both Jeremiah and Samuel had a way with women and each cheated on their beloveds with members of their sweetheart's own family. However, Samuel had a more ruthless and brutal aspect to his manner that he alternated with the addictive affections he captivated his conquests with. Although Samuel was married to Mama Dear's mother, Ida, with their 14 children, he also fathered a separate family of 11 children with Ida's sister, who lived on a nearby farm, about five miles away from his home with Ida, which in farmer's measurements, is 'barely a skip and a jump'.

Samuel died in his early 50's, reduced to wearing diapers, which Ida loyally tended to him throughout, hand and foot, despite the beatings he gave her when he was physically fit to do so, and, even though Samuel betrayed his wife by fathering a family with her sister. Yet, Ida remained devoted to Samuel. Mama Dear said that at her father's funeral, his 14 legitimate children ' wuza weepin' anduh cryin' "My Daddy! Oh! My Daddy", simultaneously, his 11 illegitimate children, "wuza wailing, My Daddy! Oh! My Daddy!", causing a fight amongst both sets of children over who had the right to call Samuel Tucker, Daddy! "He ain't cho Daddy!" "Yes he is my Daddy" "Well he mo' my Daddy than he is yo' Daddy!" My Grandmother recalled how ridiculous she thought the argument was, as well as being disrespectful to her grieving Mother. She put her arms around her Mother and led her away from the grave site.

Although Mama Dear had moved on after breaking up with Jeremiah and had since married Daddy Honey, still, Jeremiah kept a place in Mama Dear's heart, as first loves, sometimes, can do. The previous year, as my grandparent's wedding took place on the grounds of Mama Dear's sharecropping family's farm, Jeremiah could be seen weeping at the side of the tree where she and he used to meet. Mama Dear hadn't even let Jeremiah hold her hand, as she had been taught 'holding hands leads tuh suhmmn else, then kissin' leads tuh suhmmn mo' else'.  When Mama Dear refused to share carnal knowledge with Jeremiah, he started dating Mama Dear's own first cousin, Sylvia, who was one of those illegitimate offspring Mama Dear's Dad had fathered with his wife's sister, which resulted in Sylvia being Mama Dear's first cousin, as well as her half sister. Jeremiah had begged Mama Dear to take him back, declaring his love for her, saying that he would stop seeing Sylvia. As Jeremiah would tell Mama Dear that Sylvia meant nothing to him, Mama Dear's brothers would report that they'd seen Jeremiah sneaking off with Sylvia at the place where the young people would have their gatherings, which validated Mama Dear's suspicions that Jeremiah was not being honest with her. To add insult to injury, in that competitive way people have to big up themselves, Sylvia would taunt Mama Dear, "Jeremiah like me mo' cos da blackuh da berry, da sweeduh da juice. Datz wut choo get fuh tryin' to be so uppidee! Nah look at cha', he wid me, not wid choo!" That Jeremiah had traits of her father, dumbfounded Mama Dear as to why she still loved him anyway, knowing he was at the very least, a cheat, 'and who knows, he might even beat me up too, if we wuz tuh get married'. The emotionally educated will easily explain that the very similarities which existed between Mama Dear's first love, Jeremiah, and and her beloved father, Samuel, was the reason for Mama Dear's strong attraction to Jeremiah. But all Mama Dear knew, was that Jeremiah, stayed on her mind.  

 The blase way that Sylvia's brother told his cousin Alberta about the railroad tragedy, was a galaxy apart from the shocking impact the news had on my Grandmother. So disturbed by what she'd heard, she nearly dropped her newborn baby Timothy in that aluminium tub she was bathing him in, as she tried to digest the words proclaiming the death of her first love, Jeremiah. 

But, Mama Dear had found devotion with Daddy Honey, a treasure she placed a higher value on, than the romantic notions she once had shared with Jeremiah. Alberta Tucker knew she had made the wiser life choice, choosing David Anderson to marry. Yet, as fate would have it, Jeremiah became for her, what Daddy Honey's first wife was for him, that earliest love, which death transformed into a mystical presence in both of their memories. The loss made my grandparents cherish each other that much more, to live life with love, as a precious treasure.

In those back wood swamps of Louisiana, that was the life that Mama Dear moved away from, eventually settling in Houston, Texas, to start anew, with Daddy Honey. 

Growing up with my Grandparents as my guardians, I saw how very careful they were with each other. Every time Daddy Honey left the house, even if it was just to run an errand, they would embrace with a tender reserve as though they may never see each other again. Whenever he came home, they held onto one another with a sigh of relief as though he had just returned from the battlefield. Which, given their challenging history within the segregated, racially polarised politics of their generation, each moment survived in that socially ostracised and spiritually taxing way of life, indeed, the welcoming arms of a loved one was always an occasion to feel extremely graced with God's merciful blessings. It was a daily intensity of highly regarded affections. It stays, some say naively, as the barometer from which I measure love, devoted love. Some tell me I should simply settle down with a person to share human experiences with and forget about finding that rare nourishment that I preciously remember as the example set by my grandparents, so deeply embedded in my soul. Thing is, living amongst those who always showed and shared such adoringly dear feelings with each other, makes anything less, seem a pointless function.  

After Mama Dear's Grandmother Lizzie died, her Grandfather, the wealthy white Creole landowner Thomas Tucker, responded to his tremendous grief by never saying another word to their mulatto son, Samuel, or his family. The only contact Thomas had with his son's family, following Lizzie's death, was giving Mama Dear a proper riding horse, which he brought to her a few weeks after Lizzie's funeral. Thomas handed the horse to his granddaughter in silence, then walked away. Thomas had seen how much his granddaughter enjoyed riding the field horses, once her farm chores were done. She would ride even after nightfall, amongst the wooded trees that surrounded their farmland. When the stars were absent from the sky, her trusted steed, Lester, would lead them back to the shack she called home, where there was a lantern on the porch, awaiting her return. 

At 41 years old, I started riding horses to take my mind off of worrying about my son who was spending his gap year in Australia and New Zealand, with seven other 19 year old boys. I had hoped that Mama Dear's love of riding would rub off on me. It did. I was only ever a novice at it, but I loved it. The name of my horse is Dexter, who yet resides at the stables where I had saddled him up for eleven years. A few years ago, a riding incident put a stop to my continuing with the sport, which I miss so very much. Such noble creatures horses are. Mama Dear used to lament how much she missed riding once she and Daddy Honey moved from the country to the city. When I had to stop riding, I then knew something of the void she had felt. 

 It was said that Thomas favoured Mama Dear over his other grandchildren because "Alberta reminds that ol' man of Lizzie when she was young".  When Lizzie was still alive, they would all have family gatherings together. Thomas Tucker, who, like some other wealthy white Creoles in the community, had the position of being above reproach for his 'settin' up house widuh coloured woman', which allowed Lizzie's family, for a time, to enjoy privileges of society usually denied coloured people of that era. At one point, there was talk of Mama Dear going to college, an aspiration she held tremendously high hopes for. When circumstances changed, following Lizzie's death, Mama Dear recalled how she would see her grandfather watching her from afar, as she rode the horse he'd given her, "bareback, with only a blanket to cover his spine as my saddle, and a rope around his nose, for the reins".  She said her grandfather would stand out in the distance for hours. As it got darker, he would position himself closer, carrying a lantern to watch her ride in the dark, but without uttering a single word to her. A few years later, near to the time of my grandparent's marriage, Samuel found out from one of his father's associates when he went to town for some farm supplies, that his Dad had died and had been buried several weeks earlier. The land that Samuel lived on with his family, belonged to his father, who bequeathed the land to Samuel and his offspring in his Will, according to the sharecropper arrangements, standard practise by some, in those days. Mama Dear's sister, Aunt Darling was the last to live on that land, until she died in 2006. It was a modest life, lived amongst the isolated fields on the Tucker land in Chipola, Louisiana. But Thomas Tucker had given his family a section of earth to own, from which they could build shelter for those offspring who had a willingness to continue tending the land.

This photo was taken in 1989, of my God sister, Jennifer Shae Rader Quigley and I, after we had arrived in Georgia, following our eight day road trip from California in my pale yellow 1974 Subaru hatchback compact car, with a small trailer hitched onto it, which held all my material belongings that I could possibly stuff inside. A few weeks earlier, my 10 year old son had flown solo to Atlanta, to be with the family we would temporarily stay with, as it was unanimously agreed that it would be unwise to take him on this Southern cross country  journey.

Along the way we stopped in Louisiana to visit Aunt Darling, Mama Dear's younger sister. The trip was to serve as a final farewell to all my kinfolk before I moved to England. Aunt Darling's trailer home sat in the midst of the Tucker family owned fields. Aunt Darling and her husband Leon, still tended those fields, even in their advancing age. They had chickens who laid eggs for their breakfast and provided poultry for their dinner.

Aunt Darling was what some refer to as 'Country', hard working, virtuous and generous, but very matter of fact and rather loud in her manner. Mama Dear was quite soft spoken in her character, with a fairer skin complexion, but the family resemblance was evident. I remembered how much Mama Dear loved her sisters, so it was an honour to have the opportunity to say my goodbyes on the same land where Mama Dear had been born. 

Jen and I are both petite, and we wanted to avoid the perils of defenceless women on their own at night, so we only drove during the sunshine hours of the day. Jen's Mom, my Godmother, Dina Armendariz, (Mama Dina), had given us a huge knife, which came in its own holster, for us to use, if we had to. There was a hilarious incident en route to Aunt Darling's house in those backwoods of Louisiana. While Jen and I were taking turns, driving around in circles, trying to find Aunt Darling's place, dusk started to show up. The scenario of those tall willowy trees standing in the middle of long stretches of water, conjured up the tales we'd been told of the bodies buried in the swamplands that were never found.  Between us, we each had relatives in every state that we stopped in, so our journey could be traced, but that was no comfort in our horrified state of mind. We were terrified of what might become of us. Being a mix of Mexican, German and Serbian, Jen easily passed the 'white enough' colour line. But, we were in Louisiana, and she was travelling with a dark skinned coloured girl. To say we were petrified, would be putting it very lightly. It got dark. The car got stuck in a mud packed pothole on one of those untreated back wood roads.

Two white guys in a tow truck stopped to ask if we needed help. There were no lights on the road, no homes, nothing but darkness and us in my Subaru with the trailer hitched onto it. As the two guys got out of their truck and started walking to the car, Jen got the knife out of its holster and set it within each of our easy reach. They guys were talking but we couldn't hear them as we kept the windows up. Jen slightly lowered the window down just enough so that we could hear what they were saying. "Y'all need any help?" We answered in unison, "No thank you, we're fine". Jen had taught me how to drive a stick shift. I was new to this aggressive type of motoring, only ever having driven automatic cars before. Being in the dark swamplands of Louisiana, with these two white guys approaching our vehicle, as though in total telepathic sync, with one smooth ballet type move, over the gear shift, we automatically switched sides so that Jen was in the driver's seat. We had a swift little giggle at the marvel of our action, but then went right back into 'worry' mode. Jen kept trying to drive us up and out of the hole we had fallen into. The wheels of the car continued to spin in the mud. It was like we were stuck in a deep crater, an open crevice in the earth.

Meanwhile, a black man from the convenience store where we had stopped earlier, to ask for directions, parked his car and came over to see if he could help us also. Well, in both our minds, we were still defenceless women, now with three men, regardless of their colour, on a dark country road in Louisiana...fear mounted beyond description. "Where y'all headed?" Jen quipped, "California!" One of the white guys replied bewilderingly, "Callyfornyah? Iounoh, but I think y'all might be goin' the wrong way!" The other white guy piped in, "Well, I've only evuh been tuh Georgia, but I'm sure this road don't lead to no Callyfornyah." The black guy now joined the conversation, "I heard you at the 7-11 askin' if anybody knows where your Uncle Leon lives. I know where he lives. If these fellas can pull yo' car out this pothole, then y'all can follow me to ya' Uncle's place". I was a bit perturbed at the black guy because when I was in the 7-11 asking if anybody knew my Uncle Leon, forced to ask this question, because, as I stood at the pay phone inside the store, Uncle Leon was on the blower saying to me, "Why it took y'all so long? I told y'all to take the turnin' up the hill after the big tree and we would be standin' outside waitin' fuh y'all!" I had been raised to respect my elders so I couldn't shout back at him in my frantic frustration, so I calmly tried to explain that in the dark it was difficult to spot which particular tree after which certain turning he might have been referring to. Uncle Leon replied, "Well, ask anybody up at the 7-11, where do Leon live. They all know me, black or white. Go on now, ask 'em!" I did as I was told, no one responded. Jen and I went back to the car and ended up on that dark road, stuck in that pothole. So for this black guy to only then speak up, well after we'd left the store and was in this frightening predicament, was a bit agitating, but, this was no time to be testy about such aggravations. Jen put the knife in its holster and positioned it so that either of us could grab it, if necessary. We got out of the car, arm in arm, ready to bolt into the darkness, should it come to that. 

The guys all worked together to hitch my car to the tow truck. The white guy driving the truck began the attempt to pull my car and trailer out of the mud packed pothole. Jen and I were so busy watching out for a quick exit, we didn't see that the tow truck was about to knock me down, as I was standing on the driver's blind side. It was the other white guy who kept me from being crushed by the truck. The black guy announced, "That boy just savedjyoh life."  

Jen and I thanked the white guys for rescuing us. They wouldn't take any money for their trouble, just said in unison, "Glad we could help out". As they walked towards their vehicle, the guy who kept me from being hit by the truck, turned around and said, "Good Luck in findin' Callyfornyuh!" It was a lesson in humanity, of the goodness variety.

We followed the black guy to Aunt Darling's place, which was only a few minutes away from where we got stuck. Uncle Leon was waiting for us at the edge of the road. We thanked the guy and offered him petrol money, but he just waved us away and started talking to Uncle Leon. Jen and I began unloading our overnight luggage. Aunt Darling leaned her head out from behind the screened door of the veranda which was attached to the body of their trailer home, "Lawdy, y'all finally made it! C'moan, get ya' selves inside nah!".

For farmers, used to waking up before sunrise, by now, it had already gone past their bedtime. Aunt Darling helped Jen and I settle into the room we shared together. She then made sure we had all we needed before she said goodnight. Jen and I stayed up talking. We were extremely relieved to be safe and unharmed.

The next morning, Aunt Darling made us breakfast with ingredients from her farmyard. The view of those fields stretched out as far as the eye could see. I vividly imagined what it must have been like for Mama Dear growing up there. Where did the farmhouse use to be? Where did Mama Dear used to ride her horse? Which section of the land did she and Daddy Honey have their wedding? Which is the tree where Jeremiah wept? All the stories Mama Dear had told me when I was a young child, came flooding back. 

Aunt Darling was the last family member to live on the Tucker land. Over the years, all the other family members had moved off the land to pursue other ventures beyond being sharecroppers. Although I had travelled with Mama Dear many times to New Orleans to visit her family, we always only stayed with kinfolk who lived in the city. The 'country' was too inconvenient. This was before they upgraded to trailer homes with inside toilets. This visit to Aunt Darling's place was the first time that I had been on the land where Mama Dear was born. I have yet to coin an expression that describes the feeling of being on Tucker family land.

Unlike many others who were in her shoes, that chose to look down on those within their own race who were of a darker complexion, Mama Dear never saw her 'lucky' position as something that actually made her better than her deep chocolate shade of kin. The fortune of 'good looks' made her feel as though she owed a penance, which she took on in silent servitude for the rest of her life. She didn't subscribe to the superiority ethic that many light skinned coloureds adhered to, so she was ostracised by them, as a sort of punishment for her living equal with 'the darkies'. At the same time she was despised by the darker skinned coloureds, whose resentment of her was multiplied by their agitation of her kindly nature. I saw it first hand amongst the light skinned women who shunned Mama Dear for showing such pride in her dark skinned husband and children, all the while still being deeply resented by the darker skinned coloureds, because her skin was so light, which to them, was the definition of the easy life.  Humans with their politically motivated social divisions are such a deterrent to cultural elevation. As Mama Dear got older, her skin got slightly more brown, to a shade that brought Mama Dear much pleasure, as she saw the 'browning' as a beautiful gift. She never understood how there could be such hatred over the colour of someones skin. Nor can I. Prejudices against people in general, simply because they are different, be it from their choice of religion, or lack thereof, the animosity towards those whose nature directs them to choose people of their same sex as a preferred mating partner, and various other societal foibles of discrimination, is fundamentally, a stupefying condition of the human existence. Add to that, to establish at the first sight of birth, someone as subhuman, before the idea of a life direction has yet to have the occurrence of a concept, reeks from the stench of bigotry and fear, so severely rooted in antiquity, that merely calling someone a 'name', could start a war. These universal wounds immersed within our history, remains regardless of how senseless it all is. Alas, in our very own 21st century, with all of its enlightened advancements intertwined with the multitudinous variety of typed cast traditions, if any sort of disagreement surfaces, we see the races, colour schemes and creeds show their automatic compulsion to take opposing sides, even though, as my grandparents would say, "We all iz the same difference."

Though young dreams be washed away in the storms of a long mourning, be grateful anyhow, continue to tend the fields. Come Sunday, we shall rejoice for each and every mercy.

Daddy Honey was a guitarist, pianist, singer and a washboard player. One of those 'one man band' Louisiana musicians that had migrated from Hamburg, Mississippi. He also served in World War One.  I remember at his grave site, a military officer handed Mama Dear the coveted US folded flag, as an honourable commemoration of his service, even though he had only been allowed menial duties and never saw combat. 

Daddy Honey was studious by nature, which often afforded him acceptance, albeit of the subservient kind, within the white establishment. His organisational attributes, similar to head porters on the railroad service, allowed him entry into a war that went against his philosophy of peace, but  he felt compelled to enlist, out of a sense of manly obligation and duty.

Both Mama Dear and Daddy Honey came from sharecropper families. Being the first in his family born free of the US slavery system, Daddy Honey had a tremendous sense of purposefulness beyond the limitations of his place in society. The treacherously gradual transition from the US slavery regime after the Civil War, for many years defied the abolition of slaves by classifying coloured babies born to 'former slaves', as indentured servants, which in essence kept the slavery system without change for quite some time, long past the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  Such were the conditions that Daddy Honey's mother, Ida Mae Johnson, was born into, virtually a slave, labelled as an indentured servant, who lived her early childhood in Mississippi when the USA was adjusting to life after the Civil War. There was never any talk of who Daddy Honey's father was, but Daddy Honey was born David Levine Anderson in 1889. He had one younger brother, whom he called "Baby".  I never heard his Christian named said. All the seniors called Daddy Honey's brother, 'Baby'. I called him, "Uncle Baby".  Uncle Baby was a lot lighter skinned than Daddy Honey, and with their mother being as dark skinned as my GrandFather was, it was easy to note that there must have been a father with much lighter skin in the mix, at the very least where Uncle Baby was concerned. One can only speculate why Daddy Honey's surname is Anderson but his mother and brother had the surname of Johnson. I questioned Mama Dear about it once after Daddy Honey died, addressing the fact that they had different names and Uncle Baby was so light skinned and had different facial features and "why ain't nobody ever talkin' about Daddy Honey's Daddy?" My curiosity was responded to with silence, a deep breath, then a welcomed relief to the call for assistance in the kitchen from one of the members of our congregation who was visiting from church. It's anybody's guess who Daddy Honey's father was, if his younger brother had a different father, or the manner in which either may have come in or out of their mother Ida Mae Johnson's life, as the topic was never discussed. However, my Uncle David, (who is the father to my cousin Jhelisa, as well as being the fourth son born to my Grandparents and the older brother to my birth father), has kindly detailed the dates and places for me of our family history records for the purpose of this musical that I'm writing about my Grandparent's love story, so I shall be doing my research on the Internet to hopefully find the connecting lineage to whomever my Great Grandfather was, the man whose seed, resulted in the making of my Daddy Honey. 

Although their lifestyles were very different, as Uncle Baby was not a church going man, still, the brothers were very close. Uncle Baby worked in the sugar cane fields. I remember when Daddy Honey used to take me with him to visit Uncle Baby. I can't remember the name of the town, but I know it was in Texas. But that's still a great wonder. It takes 24 hours by car to travel the stretch of geography that is Texas. I do know that we left at 5 am and arrived around 9 am, because Daddy Honey kept reminding me, over and over again, "Baby Guhrl, we can't be late in duh moanin' nah!". We left before the sun came up and when we arrived, I was allowed to wander about the fields as they worked and talked together, until the sun started to set. I was told to stay within hearing distance of them talking, which still left quite a bit of sugar cane field to explore. But honestly, I was only intent on satisfying my sweet tooth. I could hear Daddy Honey and Uncle Baby calling out for me, "Baby Guhrl, time tuh go nah...", "Baby Guhrl, c'moan nah..".  I would always, always, be far too drowsy to reply. Somehow, without exception, Uncle Baby would repeatedly be the first to find me, curled up amidst the shredded sugar cane hulls, which I had imbibed until those candy like plants had rendered me unconscious. Uncle Baby, standing waist high in the coarse perennial grass which hovered over me like an umbrella of shade from the sun, picked me up, cuddled me, then handed me to Daddy Honey, who carried me back to his car, put me in the back seat and wrapped me in a blanket. As my sleepy eyes were closing, I saw the sun setting through the back window of Daddy Honey's 1962 maroon coloured Pontiac. A lovingly fond memory.

The oppressive environment of his generation and culture, coupled with the misfortune he experienced, could have steered Daddy Honey in a direction towards destruction. Somehow, he managed to grasp the benefit of harmony from every bitter pill he was forced to swallow.


The young men were trekking through the back woods, after their day of carpentry work, towards the  'good time shack' they'd built as a gathering place for the youth to play music, dance, sing, eat and laugh together on the weekends with their friends, when they saw their structure of refuge burst into flames, high into the sky. Inside the shack was Daddy Honey's first wife, the mother of his 5 year old daughter. One second the men were happily anticipating 'havin' a good time', the next second, they stood frozen in disbelief as the site, too far away for the flying pieces of burning wood to reach them, but in close enough proximity to see the building be consumed by fire, where their wives and friends were waiting for them. It was a long run through those high grasslands to arrive at the scene of burnt flesh, charred bones, planks and timber resting in the embers, amidst the meadows and trees, with the soft weeping sounds of the nearby creek rising to meet the smoke and sorrow. Those A-frame constructions were fireballs waiting to happen. With a wood stove at the centre of the building, used to cook food and boil water, mixed in an atmosphere of frivolity, as the dangerous combinations of cooking oil and drinking alcohol were unwittingly splashed about too close to where the open fire wood stove was, the resulting devastation, stayed with Daddy Honey for the rest of his days.

He never talked about it. I only learnt of it when Mama Dear would tell me of their life stories, after Daddy Honey died. Even their own children only ever knew that his first wife had died and they had a daughter who was kept by her family. When my birth father visited me in England in 2006, he was overcome with emotion from all that his mother, my Mama Dear, had shared with me. Mama Dear told me that Daddy Honey continued to grieve over how his first wife's family had vanished after the tragedy, taking his little girl with them and banning him from ever seeing her again, so distraught they were by their horrific loss. His wife's family blamed him for the tragedy because he had built the place where their loved one had died in that terrible fire. He searched for his daughter for the rest of his life, but he had minimal financial resources and keeping track of people who lived in the woods, was near impossible. He never found any information that led to the whereabouts of his little girl.  So shaken to his core from the incident, Daddy Honey sought solace as a faithful follower of the Church of God in Christ Pentecostal Church, which is when he first began to 'spread the gospels' all over the southern parts of the USA. This is how Daddy Honey met Mama Dear, a decade later, as a travelling preacher delivering a sermon at her local church.

Merciful Providence sometimes will marry the broken souls who meet at the junction of Heartache & Where is Next?, carrying baggage packed with offerings of a devoted love deep inside themselves. Such a Divine Grace of affection was granted to my paternal grandparents, to pick themselves up with each other, where their first loves had ended. 

Daddy Honey used to play baseball with the Negro teams of that era, prior to the installation of official leagues. He revealed in one of his Sunday sermons that, "Buhfoh dey put rules in da game, I was a great baseball playuh! I could out argue about a foul ball longer than any of dem udder playuhz. I'd wear 'em down ya' see. But once dey got an umpire to decide when a ball was foul and what not, as it turned out, the ball playuhz who followed da rules, wuz way better at playin' baseball, than I wuz." Daddy Honey told this parable as a life lesson. All of his stories had a Christian moral to it. That particular story was to encourage his congregation to follow the teachings of the Bible, as the map of life. At the end of every parable he'd ask, "And the moral of the story iiiiz??..." The church members would always heartily reply the required answer in unison. Daddy Honey would also tell parables to me at home, but as an impatient young child, I just wanted to be told the moral, without having to decipher my way through it all. "Honey!! Just tell me wuht the moral iz, why I always gotta be figguhren it out? His stoic reply, "That's the only way you gone evah learn somethin' if you figguh it out fuh yo'self. The story gives you all you need tuh find the answers to duh questions you gone come across in life. If I jez tol'djuu what the moral of the story wuz, witout choo havin' tuh figguh yo' own way dere, how you gone know how to get where you need to go, ifffan when you get lost?

I remember this one story he told me though, that did not require any 'figguhren out the moral of the story'.  It was about an orphaned princess, whose grandparents kept her safe from the outside woes of the world. When it came time for the princess to choose a husband, men from far and wide would ask for her hand in marriage. The village idiots, court jesters, rich ones, 'dem wit sum good schoolin', duh sons of kings, all sorts came uh callin', but da princess just wuhhun happy with nunuh dem. Then, one day, a very kind man reached fuh her hand, and the princess could feel the smile so full of enough joy in his heart for her, to last beyond the ends of this earth". I asked Daddy Honey how would the princess know which man would be her true husband? Softly he replied, "'Cos the memory of the love her grandparents shared with each other, would guide the princess to her true husband".  Mama Dear was cooking in the kitchen when Daddy Honey was telling me that story. He was sitting on the couch, with me juxtaposing myself around his neck, on his lap and at his feet. I remember how Mama Dear wiped her hands on the kitchen towel, stood in the doorway where the kitchen met the dining room, and the way they looked at each other after Daddy Honey explained to me how the princess would recognise her true husband. Their gaze at that moment, even to a 5 year old child, was confirmation of how much they cherished one another. I may never find in my life, what they had together, each journey has its own particular purpose. The blessing is, that I have been'graced with the ability to testify to knowing that such a faithful love can exist.

Daddy Honey and Mama Dear had an extremely limited formal education. From September to June, the white children were taught the three R's, 'readin' writin' anduh 'rithmatick', while the coloured children worked in the fields. Both races were allowed to use the only local school in their area, but at different times of the year. In the summer months of June, July and August, the coloured children had whatever amount of 'schoolin' was available within that time frame. Mama Dear would say her 'schoolin' was at the level of a third grader, around the age of eight or nine years old. "Honey", she'd say, 'has the schoolin' equal to that of a fifth grade white child, but he gotta a self taught college diploma in common sense and know how'. They both compensated for their lack of 'book learnin'" by educating themselves to comprehend the language in the King James version of the Bible. Plus, from his work as a carpenter, Daddy Honey learnt how to calculate lengths, widths and depths in building measurements, and his minor associations within the white establishments for real estate development for the coloured communities, required him to study the logistics of finance, which made him a very careful, budget conscious person.

The combinations of mixed race backgrounds my Grandparents shared between them, all packaged within the confines of the discriminatory practises of institutionalised racism they endured, served to reinforce their outlook that people really are, 'much of the same difference'.

As she served him his plate of food at her family's dinner table, the way she had been doing for nearly two years, him being the very welcomed visitor, following his guest sermon at the local church, he slipped her a note, which she quickly and discreetly put in her apron pocket. He left that day and she wouldn't see him for another two weeks. The day before he returned, she plucked up enough courage to open the note and read it. She had been too nervous to open the note before then, saying that she "thought it might be some configuhration to deciphuh".  It was customary for the younger members of the church to be randomly given "configuhrations to deciphuh"to test their aptitude, especially those young ones who, like my grandmother, had expressed a yearning for higher learning. When she finally did opened the note, instead of it being a math problem, it read, "Will You Marry Me?".  She frantically hid the note again, now worried that her Mother Ida and her Grandmother Jenny Must, might find it, as she knew they wouldn't approve of the union and she still had yet to 'figuh the consideration' about what her answer would be to my Grandfather's proposal.

One of her sister's found the note and told Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny Must, who, as she expected, were completely against the idea. Although the senior ladies respected my Grandfather as a man of faith, their beloved 'she' to marry 'he', was a fate they considered incomprehensible. Mama Dear being 15 years younger than Daddy Honey, didn't bother them, as that was a common occurrence in those days. It was my Grandmother's fair skin and easy on the eye appearance, that had Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny saying, "Alberta waaay too good to marry somebody as black as him!!" However in despite of my Grandfather, that Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny were, in their disapproval of him as a husband for my Grandmother, the family as a whole, welcomed my Grandfather to break bread with them on the grounds of their sharecropper's farm. After all, Daddy Honey had carved and shellacked that very long table, with accompanying benches, made from the redwood trees that grew around the swamps of Louisiana, as a place where the entire Tucker family of 17, could all sit together for dinner. Plus, it was a Christian badge of honour, in their close knit community circle, for my Grandfather to have dinner with them at their home. That this popular travelling Evangelist, chose their house, and only their house, to have his meals after delivering his guest sermon at the local church, had them looked upon as very special within the congregation. But, that was as far as the admiration went.

When Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny discovered Mama Dear's secret plans to marry Daddy Honey, she overheard them discussing the plot to sabotage the union, with Mother Ida saying, "I'm gone pull thangs dissah way" and Grandmother Jenny adding, "and I'm gone pull thangs duh udder way, eeduh way, we gone make sho dis thang ain't gone happen!" The custom of relatives wanting their kin to 'marry up', is a conventional standard many are used to, regardless of what your background is. What made this particular concern of Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny Must so disturbing, was that it was based on the belief that the light skinned coloureds, should mate with other light skinned coloureds, to have a better chance at being accepted on a higher level of living standards, within the exclusions Negroes by law had to live with.

There was an abundance of miscegenation in Louisiana. Of all the places that I've visited on this bitter earth we share, the multitude of mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon offspring, is at its most evident, to me, in Louisiana. Reputedly, the rife race mixing in this region of the US, was cultivated primarily by the French, who, as legend would have it, were openly notorious for mating with the coloureds. Some even romantically acknowledging their unions, as did Mama Dear's grandfather, Thomas Tucker, with her grandmother, Lizzie Tucker. The general consensus though about most of the white males in those days, if they had any associations at all with coloured women, it was of a violently dark nature. The more 'liberal' white fathers would sometimes even finance higher education for their illegitimate children, if they were light skinned enough. This was the plan Thomas Tucker had for my Grandmother, before his Lizzie died. This kind of biased selection, deciding who was 'good enough' to be educated, is an example of the widespread point of view, which takes the position of determining the value of a human being, simply by the shade of their hue.

The efforts of Mother Ida and Grandmother Jenny Must, proved fruitless. Mama Dear's father Samuel was in favour of her marrying Daddy Honey, and my great grandfather Samuel had the ultimate say so in the matter. Such was Samuel's obvious love for his daughter Alberta, that his main concern was that she marry a man who clearly would be good to and for her. It shows that Samuel wanted something better for his daughter, than the kind of treatment that he put upon her mother and her sisters.

Alberta Tucker was 17 years old when she first met 32 year old David Anderson. Mama Dear began telling me of their love story following Daddy Honey's death. She repeated the story many times, upon my request, and at every listening, my ears perked in earnest, as each retelling would sound enchantingly fresh.

The doctors had let Daddy Honey have two weeks at home from the hospital for us to spend some family time with him. What I didn't know then was that this arrangement was because Daddy Honey would soon die. No one knew how to tell me this.

My job was to sit by Daddy Honey's bedside and basically be a sound board for whatever he might want or need. I'd help him sip water, wipe his forehead and read scriptures from the Bible, per his requests. I'd let a grownup know if Daddy Honey had to 'make water' (the phrase used for needing to use the toilet), and made sure my cousins kept the noise down. My uncles, their wives and children had come from their various homes in Louisville and Los Angeles, as normal that summer, but instead of their usual juggling of schedules so that only one family visited the patriarchal home at a time, they all arrived within days of each other. The extended family stayed for the two weeks Daddy Honey was on leave from the hospital, afterwards, they all returned to their own homes. Daddy Honey died a few weeks later. His youngest son, my birth father, Reuben Anderson, arrived hours before Daddy Honey died in the hospital. What a day of extremes, the joy of seeing my birth father for the first time and the excruciating pain of losing Daddy Honey, all within a few hours.

In that two weeks that Daddy Honey was home and I sat at his bedside awaiting his every beckon call, various cousins who were visiting us that summer, would sit with me to keep me company as I took being 'on watch station' very seriously. I would hold my 'water' until Mama Dear took over the 'watch station' for Daddy Honey at supper time. To say I adored Daddy Honey is well beyond an understatement. Daddy Honey was the kindest human being I've ever met, alongside with Mama Dear.

After Daddy Honey's funeral, all the family went to Los Angeles for two weeks, an attempt to distract Mama Dear from her grief. She loved her children with a devotion similar to that which she held for Daddy Honey, so their comfort was fundamental to her emotional recovery. Upon our return to Houston, as we entered our home and set down our luggage, we were overcome with the truth of being without our Daddy Honey to walk through the door, cuddle us, say something funny... As serious a man as he was about his faith and religion, he had a humorous anecdote to accompany every moral he shared. He made believing in hope, delightfully worthwhile.

Above is the last church Daddy Honey built. He was a carpenter by trade, a Gospel preacher by vocation. With his own hands, he built several churches, dwellings for the less fortunate than himself, as well as the family home where his children and I were raised. There was a Harris county Texas emblem embossed on the window pane of the front door of our house, that read, 'Built in 1933 by David Anderson'. He led by example, that one should strive to make something better, out of whatever. The family home that he built, where I was raised, was on Cage Street, located in the 5th Ward district of North Houston. During the time that I was growing up there, the area was populated by mostly migrant Louisiana coloured people. It was a very quiet neighbourhood with primarily senior residents. I've read online that the community has changed quite a bit since my childhood days.

The streets had yet to be paved and were still covered in the red clay soil, mixed with gravel that sprayed the air with dust everytime a car drove by. In the dry season, I played in the drains, using them as an underground walkway alternative to crossing the street above ground. One of the neighbours alerted Mama Dear to my activity and she caught me as I was squeezing myself out of the opening of one of the drains back up onto the top of the street. "Cahleeeen!! What choo doin' down nair?? I precociously replied,  "Jes makin' sure I don't get hit by a car when I cross the street." Mama Dear was not amused. "Gurhl, stop actin' so foolish! Must be filthy down nair! Anythang could be in nair! Rats, Anythang!!" I replied to the bit she said that stood out most immediately to me, "I ain't no fool". Mama Dear retorted, "I ain't said you wuz no fool, I said, STOP ACTIN' FOOLISH!!! I continued with my reasoning, "But Mama Dear, it's clean down paper, no water, no rats, just a safe place for me to play."  Mama Dear of course was not buying my rationale.  "I said get outta dere, I mean right now, and STAY outta dere!".

There's a song I wrote, that's on my "Alberta's GrandDaughter" album, which describes the sanctuary I felt by living there. The tune is entitled, "Cage Street Memorial".  After Mama Dear died in 1984, a few years later, our home was torn down and replaced by a parking lot to pay remaining church bills. I was unaware of this development when I visited Houston for the last time in 1992. Seeing that flat cement surface in the place where our home once was, broke my heart, right in two.

Daddy Honey died in June 1966, at the age of 77. I had just turned 9 years old a month before. Mama Dear was in her 62nd year. By the time we got back from the Anderson Family Vacation in California, to recover from the numbness after Daddy Honey's funeral, it had gone July.

Texas has a sweltering heat that fluctuates from being dry to humid. My brother Bartlett, who lived with my birth mother's parents, on one of his visits with me, joined me in a test to see if what the Seniors would always say, was actually true."It's hot enough to fry a egg on a sidewalk today!". It was true, but Mama Dear was not too happy that we chose to carry out that 'foolish food experiment'. I remember this church visit in Lubbock, Texas, where the road it was on, had just been layered with tar, in preparation to be paved, but had not yet dried. I had on flip flops. I was seven years old. I jumped out of the car, so anxious to get to choir rehearsal, disregarding the shouts from the adults to "WAIT!". My flip flops stuck to the heated tar. I ran across the street in my bare feet. Perhaps this is what walking on hot coals must feel like. I do not recommend it at all. The senior women in the church had a bucket of ice waiting for me by the time I reached inside the chapel, as they had seen and heard the commotion made by the adults who were yelling at me to "WAIT"! No wonder people often had heat strokes in Texas.

Daddy Honey used to take us to Galveston, about 30 miles away, on the coast, at the Gulf of Mexico, where coloured people could swim, at night. I remember seeing Daddy Honey pay the guard at the beach, to let us swim there. It was free for white people in the daytime. Daddy Honey would get the church members together, after Friday night service in the summer, to give us relief from the heatwaves of the inner city.  This was just one of the many things Mama Dear and I would miss about Daddy Honey, as we faced life without him.  

Mama Dear and I took a deep breath, held each other and looked around the room that Daddy Honey had last slept in. She then sat herself on the edge of the bed that her children had bought for Daddy Honey to sleep in during his brief stay from the hospital. I sat on the floor, next to her feet and wrapped myself around her knees and legs. She began her first narrative about how they fell in love. She loved him so much that even though she was still young enough to remarry when he died, to them who suggested that she do so, she replied, "If I married someone else, then Honey would be all alone in the grave, without me next to him, when I die".   

Two weeks before their wedding, in January 1924, as she was a natural seamstress, Mama Dear made her own wedding dress from the cloth that her father had gone into town especially to buy for the occasion. My Grandparents had 42 years together, brought up six children and a granddaughter. Their five boys and one daughter, all rallied around Mama Dear with much needed emotional support after Daddy Honey's death, and, included me in their circle of comfort, as I had the role of 'baby sister'. We all had the terrible ordeal of coming to terms with the loss of our family leader, but for Mama Dear and I, who had to live in the house that he built, with him no longer physically in it, meant we would be bound together from then on, in a way that remains an inexplicable blessing.

My son, Bobby Anderson, is the only person who can fully appreciate how damaging the loss was for me to suffer the deaths of my Grandparents. I still feel that God's Grace granted me the birth of my child, to bring me consolation for the void that I live with, in the absence of my Grandparent's physical presence.

That the love of my Son is a mercy beyond measure, I am eternally Grateful for.

My Son made his entry on Earth about 90 years after his Great-GrandFather, David Anderson Sr. was born. Bobby's birth was over a decade after Daddy Honey's death, but the obvious impact of his Great-GrandFather in my life, is clearly evident to my child. Bobby, who is now in his early 30's, proudly displays Daddy Honey's photo, the family heirloom image, in his own abode, proof positive that the circle of love is yet connected, surviving over a century later. 

Raising my son as a divorced mother, and, after his stepfather also walked out on us, I often worried that Bobby would suffer from the lack of a constant male role model in his life, since, even though I was only legally married once, at the age of 21, but, by the time I was 27 years old, the heartache of two broken partnerships sent me into a withdrawal from the mating game that I have yet to recover from.

Thankfully, Daddy Honey still lives in me. He's a tough act to follow though, which may mean why, for my part, since my late 20's, I've only dallied in the idea of having a romantic union, like 'The One' Daddy Honey would say I would meet someday. I often translate into song, the missing of 'The One' in my life. In reality, after over a quarter of a century, I still find the complications of amorous relationships too rough a row to plough through. Abstinence, for me, is the safest protection from getting too far gone in affairs of the heart. It's more than enough to just have 'crushes'. Even those are a bear to deal with. I still believe in the kind of love my GrandParents shared with each other. I have just made peace with the fact that my life's story, so far, has yet to find that road of couple unity which they had together. If it turns out that my path leads me in a direction without the inclusion of "The One", the world will continue to spin around, and, I, will endeavour to find a positive balance within it.

That I hold my GrandFather, in such high esteem, has made a positive impression on my Son, which fills me with such joy to see Daddy Honey's photo in a place of pride, on show in Bobby's flat. Although only in spirit, Bobby does have his Great Grandfather, David Anderson, Sr., as a loving reference for a male role model, to serve as his guide.

David and Alberta Anderson rescued me at two months old, gave me a place of refuge in their home and in their hearts. They provided a safe harbour to shield me, as much as was humanly within their power to do so, from the perils of child abandonment. Since their deaths, human attachments are difficult for me to make, too wary and weary of being mistreated. My Saving Grace is the Blessing My Son brings to my life. Trials and tribulations are the costs of living which we all have to endure. Being granted the mercy of at least one person whom, without a doubt, you come first with, is a warm blanket which covers me in Supreme Gratitude.

2012 brings a plethora of projects. There is this musical that I'm writing, for which this Blog serves as outliner notes reference. My next studio album, planned for release before the premiere of my musical, will consist of the compositions from the musical. Plus, there's the One Mile Open Water Cancer Research UK Charity Swim at Lake Windermere, in June, which I've registered for. I am sooooo not a natural swimmer!! But, I'm training very hard as I'm determined to complete the event, regardless of whether I'm the last one to make it to the finish line, it's the doing of the deed that I'm going for. And, there are my gigs to be played, which keeps me in a perpetual music practise mode. 

As this following link expresses, which is a track from my "Soul Providence" CD, released in 2005, it's all about forward movement. Steady steppin' onwards...

Melody, harmony and rhythm be with you all...

Carleen Anderson

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

In Between Night and Day

Christmas can be a time of hope for the best that can possibly be in our lives. We rustle and bustle about, putting up decorations, making plans to spend time with loved ones, eat too much and, ideally, are grateful if the season is complete with joy. For some, misfortune makes a visit during this festive occasion, making it difficult, at best, to manoeuvre heartache in the midst of so much glee. Those that are lucky, find a way to keep warm, in spite of the freeze. Left scrambling to find my feet after my beloved Mama Dear exited her earthly existence, my tangible source of sanctuary in her arms taken from me, the love of my son is the light that shields me from the inexplicably empty ache that threatens to haunt me during this time of year. As my grandparents had taken me in at the age of 2 months old, after my teenage parents had traded me off to experience the freedoms historically denied to their tribes, the void brought on by the loss of Mama Dear, had the sting of being orphaned, all over again. Yet, I remember how my grandparents taught me to count my blessings, one by one. It is a mercy that allows me to step out of the darkness and live in the Sun. 

My son Bobby told me that he tells his friends, he will reference me as the model of the parent he would like to be. I was flabbergasted at this revelation as I know how very many mistakes I made along the way bringing my child up. Graciously, what my child values is the person he is today, which he credits as my doing. I have to give all the credit to my grandparents. They showed me what positive parenting is, amidst all the challenges, how to assure your child is secure in their 'first place' status with you, and, to equip your child with the facts of how very different the world can be from the particular circumstances of childhood.

I called them Mama Dear and Daddy Honey, because I thought 'Dear' was my Grandmother's name and 'Honey' was my Grandfather's name, as this was what they always called each other. My Grandmother would say, "Go tell 'Honey...", etc., or Grandaddy would say, "Take this to 'Dear', occasioned with the "What did yo' Daddy say?" and, "Let yo' Mama know first". They reared me up with an urgency, as though fearing once they were gone from this earth, I would pretty much be on my own. They totally got that right. I have been blessed with others to love me, but the safe harbour my grandparents provided me with, was a one off. Being excluded and marginalised is a theme in my music, recognised by those who identify with being left out and overlooked. However, I was trained to work at staying hopeful for better times. Hence, my songs, sounds the bells of faith in the future.

The Reverend Pastor David Anderson Sr. and his wife Alberta, would suffer me in their bed every night, my feet and arms wailing out from under the covers onto their unsuspecting throats and chests. After enduring hours of missed sleep, they would gently place me in my bed and quietly retreat back to theirs, hoping to get some much needed rest. All in vain, for as soon as my tiny body felt the cold from the vacancy of them beside me, I woke right up, marched into their bedroom, pulled myself up onto the Victorian styled bed, so high above the floor, using my Grandfather's night shirt like it was a cable to my survival zone. I'd nuzzle myself in the middle of them, with an air of a huff that they had the audacity to remove me from my comfort in the first place. Resistance, they knew would be futile, so of course, they acquiesced.

A musical endorsement of the joy my grandparents gave me, is expressed in a song I wrote called, "When the Light Shines", released on my "Alberta's GrandDaughter" CD, which tells the story of what it was like getting ready to go to church with them on Sunday mornings. It was my favourite time of the week. They put so much delight in preparing to serve people with hope. They had minimal material resources, but shared what they had as though they owned the key to the world's bounty. Everybody had a duty, came with the territory and the tasks were to be done joyfully, without complaint. They kept me in stitches with their satirical sense of humour, without leaving a bitter taste in my mouth about the circumstances of my birth. The love they shared, provided a safe haven, that even in the environment of being socially and politically oppressed, they channelled their energies towards dignity and strength, and educated me spiritually, to do the same.

Mama Dear and Daddy Honey had such tolerance with me, allowing for my precociousness, albeit within the confines of their religious doctrine. Being a member of the Church of God in Christ Pentecostal church, labelled as the 'Holy Rollers', was ridicule enough, as we lived a very isolated life. But my grandparents also had to try and accommodate the backlash I had to deal with from the neighbourhood kids teasing me about why I hardly ever had any communication with my 'real' parents. It did feel a cruel confusion, expected to maintain a parental reference to my birth parents, even though both of them had created a river of separation between us. Yet, loving them remains automatic. To bear a grudge against them would be pointless. My birth father's absence resulted in the bond of rescue with my grandparents. My birth mother is a Gypsy by nature, an unsettling characteristic of hers that to this day reflects poorly on our relationship. However, after living the first seven years of my life with a disturbingly minimal presence from my birth mother, her roaming about landed her a job as a wardrobe assistant for James Brown. He heard her sing and later named her as his most favourite singer. She married his best friend, Bobby Byrd. From her famous associations sprung a Godfather for me who supplied a platform for my own musical career, and a Stepfather whose loving encouragement gave me the confidence, amidst my tremendous insecurities, to tackle the complexities of stage fright. My birth parents, Reuben Anderson and Myra Barnes, (aka Vicki Anderson), succeeded in their quest to make the most of what the civil rights movement afforded them. True, I can literally count the hours of face time I had with my birth parents. However, the experience made me the person and artist that I am. I grasped quite early on, to simply, live with it. Providence graced me to value the power of a brighter outlook, learnt from my grandparents during my formative years. It is a priceless point of view that I yet return to, for self reliance in facing the troubles of the human condition.  

My grandparents went into overdrive to make up for what they knew I had lost out on. To see the funny side of things got my grandparents through the Depression era in the 1930's with six children to feed. Raising their grandchild in their senior years, whilst living off the leftovers from the congregational church offerings, after the church bills had been paid, meant times were lean, but hardly a comparison to the struggles of their youth. They both had been raised as sharecroppers, so they knew all about stretching the penny. My grandmother made sweet potato pies to sell after Sunday service, for 25 cents each. She packaged them into small perforated tins, stacked them on top of each other, then stored them in a large cardboard box, which was placed on the floor of the kitchen that separated my bedroom from theirs. This particular Saturday night, after they had put me in my bed, with a view to getting some rest on their own, I woke up, as per usual. But, upon going past the kitchen towards their bedroom, I was overcome with the delicious smell of the sweet potato pies. I started with a tiny pinch from one of the pies at the bottom of the box. That Sunday morning, my grandparents found me curled up inside the box, with all the empty pie tins, the last bit of pie in my hands at the corner of my mouth. I had passed out from consumption. Being awakened by their stifled laughter, I finished off that last bit of pie, as they murmured how to respond to my greed. They cradled me together in their arms, took me over to the kitchen sink, rinsed off the top layer of sweet potato that covered my body, before taking me to the bathroom for a proper wash. They explained to me as they bathed me, that in future, I must leave enough sweet potato pies for the people at church.  As the news spread that my grandmother's sweet potato pies had gone missing, a certain church member thought it necessary to let me know how my gluttony would cause my grandparents to go without food that week. I went to apologise to my grandparents for my 'selfish' deed. With instinctive kind absolution in my grandparents eyes, and smiles that beamed how proud they were of me for taking responsibility, they simply replied, 'just always remember to save enough for others'. After church service, we dropped the over zealous church member off at her house. As we sat in our car while she walked the pavement towards her door, I asked Mama Dear 'why did that mean woman wand chall to be mad at me?'. Mama Dear explained that the woman had lost her loved ones when she was young and never recovered, so I was to forgive her, because the woman was lonely, and we had each other. Then Daddy Honey said, "and because you fell asleep with the pies, we finally got some rest widout choo slappin' us widjo body parts all night long! We just have to eat cornbread and collard greens for the next few days, is all!" They so taught me the value of laughter. And, even with the financial shortfall that week, Daddy Honey still managed to find a way for he and I to have our regular 'Father & Daughter/Friday night after church meal, at the Fish Fry Stand, off the Buffalo Speedway'. I completely revelled in being his 'Little Daddy's Girl'. Some say my grandparent's love story causes me to have too much of an idealistic view of romantic partnerships. Perhaps, but I witnessed a devoted love with boundless harmony. It is a validation that steadies my balance in this very shaky world of monumental twists and turns.

My grandfather died on the same day that I met my 'real' father. I had celebrated my ninth birthday a month earlier in the visitor's waiting room at the Veteran's hospital with Daddy Honey, Mama Dear and close friends from our church. Although we visited the hospital everyday, I had no idea Daddy Honey would die, until moments before he left us. I've been told that at the age of 18 months old, I saw my 'real father' for a short time, when he came to visit his parents, while he was on a break from his studies at University in Los Angeles. I don't recall that meeting. My 'real' father had been forced to marry my mother, according to Texas law regarding underage pregnancy at the time, although the law was powerless in making the two live together as husband and wife. After the court enforced marital procedure, both my parents went to their separate family homes. My 'real' father left his parent's house soon after I was born. My grandparents shouldered his accountability to avoid my mother and her family seeking lawful retribution against my father's neglect of his parental obligations. Ultimately, I was blessed that my grandparents fell in love with me. In a future Blog, I will detail the impact that day of loss and recovery had on my psyche, meeting my father for the first time, in conjunction with us saying 'fare thee well' to the man who had raised us both. For now, let it suffice to say, upon my grandfather's death, I attached myself to my grandmother's hip.

The photo at the top of this Blog, with the Christmas tree in the background, showing me with a swollen face and red eyes, but smiling because my son's arms wrapped me in cheerful support, was taken in 1984, a few weeks after my grandmother died. At the time, my son & I were living in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue, the famous street of luxury, in a 1 multi-purpose room flat, where we slept on the floor. We shared the flat with my boyfriend, Donny Baker, a German Catholic Hippie who lovingly took on the role of 'stepfather' to my son. We were both music students and saved pennies in a coffee can, for my son's treats, etc. The apartment courtyard accommodated other 'low income' families, to mix with those of privileged fortunes, the city government's attempt to bridge the gap between the 'haves and the haves not'. It fostered aspiration amongst us 'poor' ones, instead of resentment, and a bit more tolerance from them that were better off. It was a short lived 'affirmative action' project, that granted my son an opportunity to get on the 'higher track' of education, of which the waiting list was brutally exclusive. I was way more than ready to get my son out of the neighbourhood of his birth, in South Central L.A., where random gang shootings were an everyday occurrence. But to leave my grandmother was torture. To give you a more in depth idea of my affinity with my grandmother, when my labour pains started, I got out of the bed with my son's father/my husband, and got into bed with Mama Dear. Her healing hands and calm humming of gospel hymns, from her house to the maternity ward where my son was born, is yet a comfort beyond words. My husband left us when my son was eighteen months old. My son was three years old at the time that our names were selected to participate in the social exercise of mixing the underprivileged with the affluent, which also included the advantage of my son having a prestigious pre-school education, all provided for by the Los Angeles city government. My birth father moved my grandmother into a new house in the suburbs of Long Beach, near where he lived. As a full time music school student and a divorced mother with two jobs, I drove the 2 hour journey in my 20 year old car to visit Mama Dear weekly. Such was my need to get a cuddle from her. After she took ill, I'd spend all day just trying to feed her a bowl of oatmeal. To kiss her cheek was a precious reward. I had last seen her on Thanksgiving Day. The phone call came a few days later. I drove up to the Hollywood Hills, perched myself on a bench and absorbed the news that I had lost the last earthly shoulder of my childhood for me to lean on. Looking out over those Hollywood Hills, I felt the embrace of my grandparents, a presence of assurance that they now existed in a place of peace and that my sorrow must take a back seat to my duty as a good mother to my son. Their love yet brings me the strength to imagine the arch that connects the darkness of night to the light of day. I am grateful for their loving touch in my life. This Grace of Gratitude is a very warm blanket, that inspires music to accompany my journey, a truly merciful blessing.

Wishing you all a joyful and harmonious Yuletide season that lasts every single moment  of the rest of your lives. Carleen Anderson

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Images from Ghana in November 2011

Steps to Captivity from the Slave Castle to Foreign Shores...

Drums& Bass/Vocals&Piano Music

On the shores of Ghana, looking to the future....

Planning to start a Music School in Ghana someday....

Courtney Pine & Wife includes me in their plan to start music school in Ghana.